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Update from Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion
Dear Members of the Syracuse University Community:
We write to you today to update our community on the continuing work of the Board of Trustees Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion. The Special Committee was formed in December 2019 following student protests over various incidents on campus, including instances of anti-Black and anti-Semitic bias. The passionate voices raised by many throughout the University community highlighted important issues that have and will continue to drive meaningful and sustainable change. Not long after our students left campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the killings of Black Americans by police and others propelled a national reckoning over racial injustice. The importance and urgency of our work is clearer than ever.
The Special Committee has been meeting regularly since its formation. Early in the Spring 2020 semester, we met on campus to hear from students, faculty and staff. During those important listening sessions, we heard a wide range of concerns and feedback from members of our University community. While the pandemic paused the opportunity to engage on campus with our community, the Special Committee has continued its work. The Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) we convened has shared with us observations based on their own visits to campus earlier this year. The feedback from campus community members, combined with the IAP’s input, will be addressed in our final recommendations.
The Special Committee currently is focused on a number of key areas:
- developing recommendations that assure the University has the resources necessary to support its goals and objectives for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, including the Campus Commitments;
- evaluating actions needed to enhance diversity among faculty, staff and the professionals engaged with the student experience;
- strengthening our Universitywide training programs for all key stakeholders (e.g., Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, staff and students);
- encouraging and incentivizing expansion of curriculum opportunities to foster better understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA); and
- assuring mechanisms are in place for oversight by the Board of Trustees that assure accountability in the achievement of the University’s DEIA goals and objectives.
In addition, the Special Committee is aware of the need to restore trust between the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the University community. In this regard, the Special Committee supports Chancellor Syverud’s plan to create a Public Safety Citizen Review Board. As the Chancellor wrote in his June 9 message, the Public Safety Citizen Review Board will include members of the Syracuse University community. That board will hear, review and recommend actions regarding complaints made by campus community members. It will also provide guidance to DPS on how to best engage with and support the community.
We agree that, for this important initiative to be successful, our students, faculty and staff must believe in the breadth and scope of the Public Safety Citizen Review Board. Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who served in that role from 2015-17, will be making recommendations regarding the Review Board’s charge; composition, including how members will be selected and their terms of service; oversight; and factors for success. As part of this process, Lynch and her team will seek and incorporate feedback from the campus community on the recommendations. We believe that this outreach is critical to the Review Board’s success, and we support this process.
Lynch and her team will provide their initial guidance to the University with respect to the Citizen Review Board by the second week of September, with a full independent review of DPS to follow. Building trust between our Department of Public Safety and our entire campus community requires a model that allows for both public safety and community engagement. Lynch’s independent review is an important step in advancing this objective.
As many of you return to campus, and some of you come here to start your college educations, we want you to know that the Special Committee intends to continue its engagement with the University community. To this end, we will be conducting a survey this fall to assess the climate on campus and discover areas in which the University should focus. We expect at the end of this calendar year to make concrete recommendations and actions to help support the change that you, our community and our values demand.
In closing, welcome back to Syracuse University, and we wish you a smooth and safe transition to the start of the fall semester.
Richard Alexander L’82 and Jeffrey Scruggs
Co-Leads, Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion